One of my favorite things about autism is that – if you are willing to learn – loving someone with autism teaches one how to recognize love.
When I was young I constantly failed at romantic relationships, partly because I thought love had a ‘look’. For example: I mistakenly believed that love remembered your birthday, bought you things, held you when you cried and massaged your feet (my particular fetish). Once I began raising autism I discovered that love is THE ACTIVE EXPRESSION OF CARING IN THE MANNER POSSIBLE FOR THE ONE DOING THE CARING. Let me explain:
My son was echolalic and hypersensitive to sounds, sights and smells (among many other things). He was eight years old but still undersized. When he was seven I had been helping him in the public restroom. Once he was done his ‘business’, I stuck him on my hip and leaned in to flush the toilet. His head was angled down towards the bowl and the flush was so robust and loud it even scared me. Needless to say his depth perception sensory hypersensitivity kicked in and he melted down for hours. After that he had what the professionals called an irrational fear of toilets. (They called it that even though I repeatedly explained the total rationality of his naturally acquired fear.) Thus by the time he was eight we were used to this pee-pee panic.
We – my family of eight kids, one hippie sound man and me – were traveling North America performing in prisons (okay, okay– we were an unusual brood). Anyway, were were all sandwiched into a two double bed hotel room and needing the bathroom. My son was sprawled like a cat with all fours spread across the door, nails in the wood and creating a barrier while screeching MEOW!!!!! or as in his case NEEEEOOOOOO!!!!! We needed to pee (especially the four teenage girls) and had very little patience for his warnings of imminent death. His language was adorable, and since he mostly copied everything we said it was hard to understand exactly what he was trying to say but one thing was certain: He was trying to keep his family safe.
Of course his sisters weren’t about to pee in a pan to avoid the dastardly toilet (his idea) so I had to remove him from the room, repeatedly, on scheduled interludes, to allow for the families needs and ablutions. While this was all very challenging and problematic, fortunately I love to problem solve. Also, my heart was bursting with the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing your child loves you, loves his siblings, cares about others. In his world we were in danger and he was begging, pleading, screaming and fighting to keep us safe.
My son loved us, and he showed us by melting down. My son loved us and he taught me that love can have a ‘look’. And that look depends on the perspective of the one doing the loving. So if I wanted to feel it, I would have to be open enough to see their point of reference.
This has changed my heart and life forever.
Editor’s note: The author requests a link to the following post: http://www.brainbody.net/BrainBody/Blog/Entries/2012/3/1_Prison_Tour_Teaching.html